Priests lure women to sex slavery
Monday, April 2, 2001
INDIA by S. N. M. ABDI
A thinly disguised form of prostitution is prevalent even today in many Hindu temples of south India.
Young women, called jogins or devdasis, are lured by priests to serve as consorts of male gods but end up as sex slaves of rich farmers, traders and politicians.
As practised for many decades, the new recruit at a temple in Andhra Pradesh, Arundhuti Kumari, 28, was paraded on a bullock cart in Palepally town last month for all to see.
Activists, aghast at the brazen public display of the latest entrant into the sordid world of temple prostitutes, are demanding an immediate ban on the practice of enticing poor women to Hindu religious centres for the sexual enjoyment of the area's rich and powerful who contribute generously to the temple's coffers.
With Ms Kumari's well-publicised induction, the number of jogins in the Palepally Temple dedicated to the monkey god, Hanuman, in Mahboobnagar district, has risen to 32. The total number of jogins in the southern state runs into thousands, according to reports. The devdasi system is also prevalent in neighbouring Karnataka state.
Bowing to pressure from some quarters, the state Government recently sanctioned a pension for elderly jogins living in penury.
Until the 19th century, many Hindu temples in south India were centres of music and dance. Female devotees danced and sang in their sprawling courtyards to entertain the gods.
The religious tradition spawned many outstanding performers and poets who carved a special niche for themselves.
But with the passage of time women from well-to-do families stopped dancing and singing in the temples. To fill the void, priests started recruiting women from poor families to keep the cultural tradition alive in temples. But it gradually degenerated into prostitution.